Year One of A Bush Fellowship: A story in pictures (and some words)
When you first learn that you have won a Bush Fellowship, you can hardly believe it. You try and keep your composure as you imagine all the doors this amazing opportunity could open for you. You fail at keeping that composure and make crazy-excited faces that entertain your friends.
The initial excitement is quickly replaced with a wild fear: “this must be a mistake. Of all the epically talented and accomplished people in the world, why would you get selected for this prize?” You check and double check that it is in fact your name on the letter. Then you call the Bush Foundation to see if perhaps their mail merge made a mistake and sent this letter to everyone with a last name that started with a letter of the alphabet.
After being fully assured that no, the Foundation did not make a mistake and you are in fact the recipient of a Bush Fellowship, you begin fantasizing about all the educational and civic adventures you could undertake in the next two years.
You tell yourself that you are obviously super-human since you are now a Bush Fellow. So you plot out a super-human fellowship plan including graduate school, social entrepreneurism, professional coaching, conferences, a library’s worth of reading, and very little sleep. “This is going to be awesome,” you think. “I’m going to fix the world in 18 months, and have half a year left over for Spanish classes.”
Not only will you go back to graduate school to earn your master’s degree, you will simultaneously revolutionize how graduate education is delivered and received while inside the system. Outside the classroom, you will grow your fledgling start-up civic organization into an internationally recognized brand that makes people excited to talk about issues like agricultural policy and Electoral College reform. You will spend your “free time” bettering yourself as a business owner and artist.
About six months into your Bush Fellowship, you notice something strange; the world isn’t completely changed for the better yet. In fact, even the graduate school which you attend seems unfazed. Your creative notions for an educational reformation go unheard as fellow students dig into statistical problem sets and mock policy memos. Don’t they appreciate your plan for teaching parliamentary politics through a murder mystery party? Also, why hasn’t your sweat and effort made the organization you founded the American Idol of civic discourse yet? And what are these bags under your eyes?
You are nearing the halfway mark of your fellowship. Panic. Soon there will be a new cohort of Fellows and you will be left with what to show for it? A poor understanding of regression analysis and an 86-hour sleep deficit. You consider that you were right in the first place; the Bush Foundation made a terrible mistake. You can’t fix the world. You have wasted this incredible opportunity.
Then you do something you should have done a long time ago; you take a step back and look around. You notice that you are surrounded by other people even more amazing than you. People who inspire you, make you laugh, push you forward, and make ideas sharper than they were.
Now you get something: a Bush Fellowship isn’t about exposing some alien being to the yellow rays of the sun to create a Super-man/woman. It’s a means of oiling a fulcrum somewhere in a community so he/she help leverage all the amazing talent and power that’s already there. Trying to put everything on oneself is not only stupid, it’s a good way to be smothered under life’s crushing blows. It took you long enough, but after a year as a Bush Fellow, you’re realizing the only mistake was your own savior/hero/mar martyr complex. Few things are ever “fixed” that way; even Superman had the Justice League. So you head into the second year of your fellowship, less concerned with what you must do, and more interested in how you can be part of something bigger than yourself.